The second temple in Jerusalem was destroyed because of sinat chinam, baseless hatred of one another. It is during this time of year that we take extra care with one another and try to shower each other with chesed, kindness. By doing this, we are making an effort to move to the other end of the spectrum, from sinat chinam, to ahavat chinam, loving one another freely.
Here are 7 ways to create an atmosphere of chesed in our home and teach our children all about kindness.
- Role modeling:
The best way to teach your kids anything is to do it yourself. Be a living, breathing model of how you want your kids to act. So, if you want your kids to be kind, show them how to be kind.
It is helpful to create conversation around how to reach out to others with kindness. Then invite your children to join you.
“Our new neighbors just moved in. What do you think about welcoming them by baking a cake and bringing it over?”
“Mrs. Cohen just sprained her ankle. I know she can use some visitors. Want to come?”
- Smiling is contagious:
In Ethics of Our Fathers, ,(1:15) it says “Greet every person with a pleasant countenance.” The simplest ways to teach and spread kindness in your home and elsewhere, is to smile. Having a pleasant face, i.e. a smile, according to Jewish thought, is a social responsibility.
Smiling is infectious. It releases endorphins in your brain which reduces your heart rate and acts as a stress reliever and even a mild pain reliever. It has been noted that faking a smile can boost your mood.
Most importantly, your smile can affect the people around you. Another’s smile can activate the reward center in our brain, increasing our happiness. Smiling acts as a bridge between people, signaling that you matter. Studies have shown that in the workplace, smiling is known to invigorate others, increase productivity, creativity and efficiency. We certainly can apply this to our homes.
- Judging other’s favorably:
Another important foundational Jewish concept, from Pirkei Avot, is giving others the benefit of the doubt. This empowers us to be kind to others.
So instead of thinking:
“My daughter left her dirty bowl in the sink because she’s inconsiderate!”
“My son forgot to tell me about his science fair because he’s irresponsible!”
We can think:
“My daughter was probably in a rush today and that’s why she left the bowl in the sink.”
“My son is 10 years old. That’s pretty normal for a 10-year-old to forget.”
What if you really misjudged them? What if it was you that left your bowl in the sink or your son told you about the science fair but you wrote down the wrong date?”
Own up to it!
“Oh boy, I did not give you the benefit of the doubt! I thought that you left the bowl in the sink and it was me! I have to work on that middah!”
This teaches them to see the inner process of one’s thinking patterns when trying to manage negative emotions and judgments. This might make it easier for them to do the same.
- Look on the bright side:
Every character trait has both a negative and positive side to it. It is helpful to view our family members in this light.
If you see your kids being generous to others, be sure to praise them for it. Even when they’re acting selfish, don’t point it out to them. Stay positive and be on the lookout.
Seeing the positive traits in our family members, helps us act kinder to them.
- Positive reinforcement:
To really teach children how to be kind, you want to help them understand what kind behavior looks like. You want to make it tangible for them. The best way to do that is to notice when they are acting in kind ways and label the act as a kindness.
“You shared your ice cream with your brother. That was kind!”
“You let your sister go first even though it was your turn. That was so kind of you!”
“You let Eli borrow your sweatshirt. That is being kind to a friend.”
- Help children use their talents and strengths to give to others.
People are naturally giving if they’re doing what they love to do. This applies to children too. If your child plays an instrument or loves to sing, local nursing homes can be a great place for them to serve. If your child has a way with younger kids, they can offer babysitting help to busy families. And children who love animals would benefit from working in an animal shelter.
Once your children start using their talents to give, they will be more likely to give even more.
- Be a “Bucket Filler”:
In the kindergarten where I work, the “Bucket Filler” program is used. It is inspired by the book, “Have You Filled a Bucket Today” by Carol McCloud. The concept is simple. Every person has an invisible bucket that holds good thoughts and feelings about ourselves. When we are happy and good to others, our buckets become full. When we are sad or not nice to others, our buckets become empty. We become “Bucket Fillers” when we are nice to others. Bucket Fillers fill both our and others’ buckets. But when we make someone feel bad, we become “Bucket Dippers.” Bucket Dippers dip into both of our buckets.
We can readily bring this idea home by just reading the book to our kids. There is even a version of the book for teens and adults. If we want to take it one step further, we can actually buy buckets at the dollar store along with tokens/marbles etc. When family member act kindly to each other, they can receive a token in their bucket. When your buckets are full, children can receive a reward.
We can teach our children all about ahavat chinam by creating an atmosphere of kindness/chesed in our homes. Smiling, giving the benefit of the doubt, focusing on our family’s positive traits, pointing out acts of kindness and adapting the Bucket Filler philosophy are all ways to do just that.
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.